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Rail and Sail to Brittany

Posted by at 03:53 on Monday 11 July 2011

Catherine Mack goes on the the ultimate slow travel break, taking the train to Plymouth and ferry across the Channel to explore the coast of Brittany on Inntravel's gorgeous hotel to hotel hiking holiday. She choose the Plymouth to Roscoff Route, operated by Brittany Ferries.

Walking on the Granite Coast of Brittany, FranceWalking on the Granite Coast of Brittany, FranceBased in London, I had plenty of time to get to Plymouth port, to meet the ferry which left at 11pm. But with such a late departure, anyone travelling from other parts of the UK has plenty of time to get there too. If you are travelling from Ireland, you can take Brittany Ferries’ super glam Pont Aven ferry from Cork to Roscoff in the afternoon.

The worst part of our journey was, surprise surprise, getting across London to Paddington station in the rush hour. Once I got to the station (and I love Paddington’s grandeur, I must admit) I could relax in the knowledge that while all the commuters on the First Great Western train to Plymouth were heading home to London suburbs, I was hitting the gorgeous South Devon coast. And even more smugly, while they were heading back to work in the morning, I would be breakfasting on the beach in Brittany.

Roscoff in the early morning © Catherine MackRoscoff in the early morning © Catherine MackFirst Great Western operates trains from London Paddington to Plymouth about every thirty minutes, with good prices (from £13 one way when booked in advance). We took the 18.03 and arrived at 21.17, with the train clinging to the red cliffs of Devon's coastline for much of it. Arriving at Plymouth bang on time, we were able to get a taxi easily to the port, which cost £6 and got us there in about six minutes. Could have walked it, I guess, but it didn't look like a very nice walk through built up bits of the city.

Check in was quick and easy at the Brittany Ferries terminal, although you have to carry on your bags yourself, with no actual bag check in, which seems a bit of a shame if you have loads of luggage, but it does mean you don't have to worry about packing your overnight gear in a separate bag nor have the hassle of baggage check-in queues!

A bit peckish, we went in search of food, which was a bit of a mistake as they only had chips in the terminal cafe by the time we arrived. But with a glass of wine, and an outdoor terrace to watch the ferry from, life could be worse. By the time we got on board there was a splendid French buffet being served, so if you don't mind eating late, best hold off for that.

Croissants and cafés by the sea © Catherine MackCroissants and cafés by the sea © Catherine MackOur cabin on the elegant, and spacious 'Armorique' ferry, had a sea view, and was pretty luxurious as ferry cabins go, with crisp bed linen, plenty of space, kettle and teabags, a telly (which actually worked) and a lovely shower room. Strangely, my travel companion and I, two middle aged Mums on a rare trip away from our kids for a few days, seemed to be the youngest on board, with hundreds of silver haired, well heeled travellers, some perusing maps for cycling or hiking trips, and others just enjoying a bottle of sauvignon blanc over a game of Scrabble. All very gentile and charming.

We hardly felt the boat move at all and slept like babies, to be awoken at 6am by a tannoy announcement telling us we would dock in an hour. On the way back they woke us nearly two hours before we docked, which I thought was a bit unfair, considering it was so early in the morning (about 5am). Do wish someone would introduce a breakfast in bed service for these crossings though, as I am always too sleepy to make it to the buffet. But that must get easier as you get older, I guess, as the café was packed with the silver haired cyclists by the time we crawled down to the deck to wake up.

Docking in a sunny Roscoff, we strolled into the town centre, just ten minutes from the ferry port. This is a pretty old port town, where the Wednesday morning market was being set up on the water's edge, fishing boats come and go, and the lovely seafront Cafe Ty Pierre offered us the perfect terrace to enjoy our first French breakfast of the week.

It is easy to miss the most ancient part of the town, where a bridge out to Ile de Batz seems to have collapsed into the water, and ancient houses line the shore. Our one regret was that we didn't take time to visit Ile de Batz just off Roscoff, with boats going every half hour or so, with plenty of cycling and walking possibilities. I am saving this for the next trip, and hope to check out the campsite there too.

One more top tip, on your return journey, the ferry doesn't leave until 11pm again, so don’t pass through Roscoff without treating yourself to one last taste of Brittany's fine fish and seafood, at the gorgeously intimate, L'Ecume des Jours restaurant, located along the seafront on the outskirts of the town en route to the ferry. As for the journey back, all equally smooth and lovely, even managing to miss the rush hour back in London, giving me a few hours to put away my walking poles, catch up on emails, and hit the school run. Video of my trip to Brittany the green way.

> To book a ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao, as well as several other cities including Santander, Cherbourg and St Malo, see our: Plan your Journey by Ferry.

For more information on Roscoff and Brittany, visit Greentraveller's Sustainable Holidays in France or Brittany Ferries' website

Catherine is the author of travel blog Ethical Traveller and new travel app Ireland Green Travel.

Brittany has always had a special connection with the sea. Photo: InntravelBrittany has always had a special connection with the sea. Photo: Inntravel

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